Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ten Legs, Thirteen Thousand Kilometres

This is Andy Greene. The one on the right, I mean. The more compact gentleman on the left is yours truly.

I read in the local paper the other day that Andy, age 67, is walking the length of New Zealand. At 2,000 kms, this is roughly the same distance as my own Big Walk, I thought it would be good to meet Andy and compare notes.

It turns out Andy also lives in France, at Grenoble, in the Alps. He is actually American, from New Jersey. He is walking from Cape Reinga, in the far north of New Zealand, to Bluff at the southern extremity of South Island. He is doing it in four sections - a half an island per year, and has just finished his third year of walking, at Timaru. He is walking mainly along the verge of the main highways, which has been a bit hairy at times, New Zealand drivers not being the best in the world.

I arranged a meeting yesterday afternoon between the two of us and three other Big Walkers. Shelaine is a young Canadian, from Calgary, who walked the Te Araroa Trail before it was officially opened 4 months ago by John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Te Araroa, at 3,000 kms, is one of the longest trails in the world and is all off-road, sometimes quite arduous and crossing several areas of wilderness where it is necessary to carry 10 days supply of food as well as camping and cooking equipment, et cetera.

Shelaine is currently working at the Hanmer Forest Camp where we are staying. The managers of the Camp are Steve and Lynne, who will, in a few months, be finishing here and setting off to walk the Te Araroa.

So there was a lot of walking in the legs gathered round that table yesterday afternoon. In the evening, we went out with Andy to an excellent Asian restaurant - Malabar - here in Hanmer Springs. Gay and I walked in and, after a good evening with Andy, walked the three and a half kilometres back in the pitch dark.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Funny The Way The Mind Works

Have you ever seen a man of almost 72 years old falling down a mountainside? Well, you missed your chance this morning. We are in Hanmer Springs, having crossed back from the West Coast on Monday. This morning we toiled up the quite strenuous Waterfall Walk, which takes getting on for 3 hours there and back (or 4, or 5, depending upon who you are). The walk culminates in the view above, at about 800 metres above sea level.

We did this same walk on Tuesday morning, and have done it often enough before. For a couple of years, the alternate route back, which climbs again to 800 metres, with views like those pictured next, has been closed because of logging operations. On Tuesday we noticed the signs prohibiting access to the alternate return had been removed, so this morning we thought we would try it.

The track was a little overgrown in parts, and could do with a good machete-ing. It was on the descent that things became a bit tricky. That is, when we hit the area where the logging had taken place. The track became very rudimentary and, to be frank, downright dangerous. This picture of Gay is taken just before it turned really bad.

After that point we needed all hands, arms and legs so the cameras were put away as we tried to negotiate what had become very loose broken stone, sometimes combined with almost vertical drops. it was dangerous. I managed to find a stick which was some help but at one point I completely lost my footing and went rolling down the track. Fortunately, we were not too far from the bottom at that point and I didn't go too far, and I wasn't too damaged - a few scrapes and abrasions, and a lot of dust.

But as I lay on my back like an upturned tortoise, the thought that came into my head was that if our friend John Dwyer had a similar mishap we could give him a new nickname - "Tumble Dwyer". Now why was I thinking such nonsense instead of checking whether I had broken anything?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cross Country

Since the last post, we have transferred from the south east of South Island to well up the West Coast. As the Southern Alps are in the way, this is not a direct route and we have taken 3 days for the journey. We stayed Friday and Saturday nights in Arrowtown, near Queenstown but much quieter. A lovely place. Then on to Fox Glacier for Sunday night. We stayed here because Gay wanted to have a look at Lake Matheson, which could be quite an insignificant body of water but it is famous for reflections of the close by mountain range and especially Mount Tasman and Aoraki Mount Cook. Both of these are pictured above. Tasman is on the left of the picture, looking bigger than Cook because it is nearer the camera, but Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. Both are permanently snow covered and also in the Southern Alps there are many glaciers.

We went to Lake Matheson on Sunday but were disappointed by the lack of reflections. In fact we couldn't even see the mountains because of the rain and low cloud. This shaky bridge gives access to the track which circumnavigates the lake.

On Monday morning we awoke to thick mist so expected that we would have to come back another time to get the full benefit of Lake Matheson. But the sun soon broke through and, as we watched, stripped the clouds away from the mountains, so that we could get the cameras to work.

Did I mention that on Thursday the physio in Balclutha had changed the tapes on Gay's legs to a pair in bright pink? This had an excellent effect on the Achilles tendon injuries and by Monday morning she was up for trying the track round the lake. This was billed as 2.6 kms, but it took us well over an hour, excluding the stops for photo opportunities. These abounded - this is just one result:

Progress continues with the injury. This morning we did the 10k Milennium walk here in Hokitika, again with no ill results. The tapes come off this evening.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rail Trail Walk. Aftermath

On the very first day of the walk, Gay had trouble with pain in her Achilles tendons. The above picture is indicative of the damage done. I have been feeling a bit guilty about this. My style of walking since I took up the long distances for Vic's Big Walk could be described as forced marching. I walk as fast as I can, with litlle or no pause, until we reach the final destination or the next scheduled stop. Our friend Lorenzo has been heard to tell people "Do not walk with this man - he will kill you". Gay's natural walking speed is faster than mine but she does not usually do it for days on end. I am relieved to know that it was not the intensity of the march which damaged her Achilles but the friction from badly designed shoes.

The only shoes she can wear since we finished the walk are those (below) which she was using during the walk itself. On the morning of the fifth day, when we were back in our own premises, and before we set off for the day's walk, she seized the breadknife and proceeded to savage the shoes. What was removed was the so-called "heel protector". We have read many times in running magazines of the damage this does to the achilles tendon. It is not there to protect heels at all - from what would it be protecting them? It is there solely for aesthetic reasons - because the rise at the back of the leg visually balances out the rise at the front of the leg. It does far more harm than good and it is about time shoe manufacturers stopped including it in their design - in much the same way as many of them are now selling shoes without all the cushioning under the heel, which has saved nobody from injury and probably induced many.

It is over a week since we finished the walk and there has been no improvement to Gay's damaged Achilles tendons. Yesterday she went to a physio in Balclutha, who pronounced that the sheathes of the tendons were damaged through friction, strapped up the backs of Gay's legs in those fetching colours, gave her some gentle stretching excercises to do and told her to come back on Thursday.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Rail Trail Walk. Day Five

Oops, I put this on the wrong blog, my writing blog, where it has been languishing for several days.

The Final Day.

Denise kindly drove us back to Chatto Creek for today's walk. I only found out almost a week later, that Gay's heels were hurting her so much that she was seriously contemplating not walking today. She seized the breadknife and sawed down the back of her shoes so that it was not digging into her so much. This is something we have seen recommended frequently in running magazines. Those "heel protectors" actually cause a lot of damage and are really only there for aesthetic reasons.

We set off at 7.45 into a strong wind. We had watched the tv news and knew that the predicted weather had already hit North Island, causing the cancellation of all sorts of events, including the very important (to triathletes) Lake Taupo Iron Man Triathlon. We only had some of the periphery of this weather but it was very cold and the wind was against us. I was convinced this would slow us down but we put so much effort into battling it that I noticed, as we passed successive kilometre markers, that we were actually walking faster than usual - 9.5 minutes, instead of 10 minutes per kilometre. It was hard work.

Again we were huddling inside our ponchos for extra warmth and to protect us from the wind.

Even with the sawn-off shoes, Gay was so unhappy in the heel department that she felt like phoning for assistance in the first couple of kilometres, where we had no phone signal. Then things improved a bit and she thought she would drop out at Alexandra but by the time we reached Alexandra, 8 kms before the end, she decided she could make it all the way. It may have helped that at Alexandra the track turns back on itself so that the wind was at last behind us. And, being a sunny day, it had also warmed up considerably by then. We were able to remove the ponchos.

Just before the Muttontown Viaduct, about 2 kms from the Clyde Railhead, we telephoned Denise, as arranged, for a lift back to base.

On we went to the railhead, which was a hive of activity, lots of parked cars, a few buses. Obviously it was going to be a busy day on the trail for cyclists.

It wasn't Denise who arrived in her red Qashqai, but her husband Rolly. He quickly ran us back to the motel, where we found that, in addition to running her business and getting ready to go to a wedding in the afternoon, Denise had made lunch for us. What a star - or is it an angel?

And so finished our most recent adventure. We have cycled the full length of the Rail Trail before, and we have frequently walked or cycled parts of it. We have probably done 2,000 kms on the Trail. There are always lots of cyclists. We have seen the occasional walker out for a local stroll, for instance from Clyde to Alexandra. But we have never seen anybody else walking the full length of the Trail. Clearly some people have done so, but there could be so many more, bringing yet more business to the area and enjoyment to walkers. All it needs is a bit of publicity. Although I believe it was set up for cyclists and walkers, it has become known as a cycleway. To the extent that several cyclists we crossed with during the past 5 days asked us if we had lost our bikes. I know that the management of the trail website have become official followers of this blog. I say to them, please feel free to use our experience to attract more walkers.

To others who are following the blog I say don't forget that this whole "Vic's Big Walk" undertaking was set up to raise funds and awareness for pancreatic cancer research. If you do not feel up to making a donation via this page, please think of getting a copy of my book - information also on this page.

And to everybody I say please have a look at my new blog about my writing activities. There is a link on the right side of this page.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rail Trail Walk. Day Four

The Longest Day.

Knowing that we had 7 hours walking, plus stoppages, coming up, we had set the alarm for 6 am with the intention of being on the road by 7. As it happened we were up and bustling by 5.20 but still had to wait until almost 7 for enough daylight.

At 6.50 we left our cabin and, as instructed ("perfectly safe, nothing will happen round here") left our baggage in what seemed a very vulnerable position just outside the front door of the tavern. We again contgratulated ourselves on not having brought our Kindles or anything else valuable which we could not carry in our backpacks or the two bumbags Gay was sporting. The Trail was a few yards away from the tavern so off we jolly well went. Stepping us gaily, as our friend Jean would say.

Again it was bitterly cold, so we both hid inside our ponchos. Gay was wearing a spare pair of socks on her hands in the absence of gloves.

Gay had a bit of a sore heel on her right hoof. About halfway through today's walk this was added to by an equivalent sore left heel. She has only confessed to me since we finished just how knackered she was each day before we finished our marching. Fortunately she was to find today no worse in that respect than Days 1, 2 and 3. She had made a wise decision beforehand to regard the 42 kms as an elephant task. We also had the benefit of some natural breaks presenting themselves at Lauder and Omakau.

When we saw this rock, which seems to mirror the image on the Shroud of Turin, my mind started speculating about conspiracy theories which would enable me to write a book which would add to the thousands about that piece of cloth.

22kms, just over halfway, took us to Lauder. The new cafe here is excellent. Good tucker and very friendly people. They were doing a roaring trade. Somebody should drag the Waipiata people here so they will understand why their place is empty. People talk.

Off we set again, after a short break, the further 8 kms to Omakau. I can't remember exactly where which gorges, tunnels, viaducts, rock formations and snow-covered mountains figured in today's walk but they were all there somewhere. As were lots of teams of cyclists, deer (wapiti or North American Elk) and at least 2 hares, not to mention the infestatious rabbits. Wonderful scenery. The day was dry but cold throughout.

We had another break in Omakau. The Muddy Creek Cafe there makes what Gay reckons are the best vegetarian pies she has come across but she passed these up for lunch in favour of the pumpkin lasagne which we had noticed on a previous visit. We shared this but it did not live up to its anticipation. The woman who served us said the walk to Chatto Creek usually took her an hour. As the distance is 12 kms, we wondered what she had been smoking.

The man who runs the secondhand shop in Omakau seemed to be taking an exceptionally long lunch, although some of his wares were still out on the pavement.

We passed Tiger Hill with no sign of tigers, although there were some alpaca in the same area. Then I noticed what seemed to be an animal squirming on the track. As we neared the critter it turned out to be 3 animals - a hedgehog adult with two babies, which were so close to each other that they had seemed to be one. They did not seem to mind us getting up very close and personal, taking pictures. They did not move off the track. No wonder they get run over.

Very shortly after this Gay called my attention to a mustelid which was snoozing by the side of the track, no doubt replete with other creatures. As I turned to look, it made off into the grass. Didn't give us time to get a picture. Isn't it amazing how they can pass through grass or other growth without anything moving to indicate their passage?

We made our way to the cafe at Chatto Creek, fulfilling our target of 42 kms for the day. Here we were to ring our friend Denise, whose motel, Alexandra Garden Court Motel, is our base when we were in the area. But there is no cellphone signal available at Chatto Creek. The proprietor kindly gave Denise a ring for us as we supped a gigantic cup of tea apiece.

The wonderful Denise picked us up, whisked us to the motel, where she had not only made dinner for us but had also stocked up on our supplies at the supermarket.

One little snag was that our bags had not appeared. Our misgivings about leaving them in the street resurfaced. But telephone enquiries revealed that they had accidentally been delivered to another motel, where the proprietors had not seemed to notice that our names did not match their guest list. They were soon collected and restored to us.

Again, we had an early night. The forecast was for a "weather bomb" to hurtle across from Australia and deliver devastation to New Zealand. High winds, torrential rain, but mainly in North Island. We would get at least some of the high winds here tomorrow morning.

42 kms walked. A total of 127 kms so far, I think.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rail Trail Walk. Day Three

Today would have been my father's 111th birthday. The spookiness was yesterday. We passed the 111 kms post (Middlemarch is at 64 kms as the railway line started in Dunedin and still runs, with a tourist train, as far as Middlemarch). And when I took my partly-read book out to read yesterday afternoon, I found that I was up to page 111.

When we stepped outside to start walking, we found it was bitterly cold. Gay had wisely clapped on some thermal underwear but I had not. I took out my rain poncho and covered myself with it to give myself another layer. I don't think I removed it all day because it did not warm up very much. We both felt the lack of gloves - of course we hadn't brought any because is supposed to be summer here - OK, officially at the start of autumn, but the equivalent of September in the Northern hemisphere.

We hadn't gone very far before we saw that the rain which we had heard last night had fallen as snow at a slightly higher altitude. We were surrounded by very white mountains which had not been there the day before.

The day's walk was to be 25 kms. At about halfway we came to the hotel at Wedderburn. This was not yet open but the woman who was tidying up happily made us a drink.

We set off again, still surrounded by snow but fortunately with other things visible to remind us that it is not yet really winter.

We passed the highest point of the Rail Trail at 618 metres. Some English cyclists here told us about a splendid new cafe at Oturehuea, our destination for the day.

We then crossed - twice - the latitude of 45 degrees South, halfway between the Equator and the South Pole. There are markers at trailside to draw your attention to this, and to provide photo opportunities.

We have not yet seen any other walkers on the Trail (and will not in its full length, except for casual walkers out for local strolls) but just before we arrive at Oturehua we find a woman who has unsaddled her horse while she waits for it to have its lunch. Her dog was looking on.

Also not far before the end of today's leg we passed 21 kms, which tomorrow will be only halfway.

It's a good job we were told about the new cafe, the Ida Valley Kitchen, because it is not obvious from the Trail. A few years ago, DOC (Department of Conservations), removed all signs about food and accommodation and will not allow new ones. This is because they prefer people to starve rather than have the view desecrated.

We had a nice lunch at the Kitchen then strolled along to our accommodation at the Oturehua Tavern. Here we were made very welcome by Graham and Liz. The accommodation was pretty basic but they invited us to come and sit with them round the fire, where we spent all afternoon. An early dinner, which was very satisfactory, then an early night because of an early start and long walk tomorrow.

Today's walk was 25 kms. 85 kms so far.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rail Trail Walk. Day Two

Yesterday there was nowhere to stop for refreshment between Middlemarch and Hyde, but a very nice cafe (above) at the hotel when we got there. Today, in the whole 32 kms march from Hyde to Ranfurly, there is but one stop available, about 9 kms from the end. This is the hotel at Waipiata, which is, in Gay's words, "a cheerless hole". I have had coffee with some spilled into the saucer before, of course, but have never had the saucer full of coffee, without a word of apology, even after ostentatiously using a whole pile of tissues to mop it up. The only other customers who came in asked for some sort of milky coffee but received black. Again without apology, they were given a 2-litre carton of milk to go with it. They then pronounced the coffee undrinkable. Again, no apology, but a grudging offer to start again, which they wisely refused. The woman serving us was obviously new, she was being told what to do, rather than shown, and the proprietress did not see fit to speak to us as all this was going on. No wonder it was not very well patronised.

We have heard several times on this trip that rabbits are becoming a huge problem to farmers again, and this was very obvious in the first few kms after leaving Hyde. The critters were whizzing backwards and forwards and along the trail. seemingly oblivious to our presence.

Another big problem in New Zealand is the number of mustelids (stoats, ferrets and the like), which were introduced to keep down the rabbits and possums (another huge problem) but which like to munch on the native birds which are easy game because they have become used, over millions of years, to the complete absence of predators in New Zealand (until the recent coming of man, especially European man). We saw a big fat mustelid strolling across the track, not bothering to even look at the rabbits - probably because he was too full.

We were racing the threatened heavy rain, which kept trying all day. For most of the walk we were wearing our full-length rain-proof ponchos, but the rain did not start in earnest until about 20 seconds after we arrived in Ranfurly, which bills itself as an art deco place, although there is little in the town.

We were booked into the main hotel, which is for sale. Any buyer would have to spend a great deal of money bringing up to scratch and into this century. It would also be a good idea to have somebody on reception who could summon up a smile, even just a professional one. And to have food in the restaurant which could match up to the claim of having "the best chef in the Maniototo". Shaving mirrors somewhere near the washbasins would be a good idea as well. But the room doors do lock.

We went to bed early to prepare for a 7 am start tomorrow, when we shall be tramping 42 kms, which even at our fast pace will be 7 hours of walking, plus stoppages. There was very heavy rain for most of the evening and night. This was to give us a bit of a surprise in the morning.

We had also begun to hear dire warnings on the tv forecasts of some extra-specially horrendous weather - a weather "bomb" - which would hit New Zealand at the weekend.

Needless to say, all this weather is not doing much for the photographability of the wonderful terrain through which we are passing. We can still see how magnificent it is, but the distance shots are not coming out too well on the screen.

Today we walked 32 kms, so we have done 60 kms so far.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rail Trail Walk. Day One

On Tuesday last we drove from Alexandra to the other end of the Rail Trail in Middlemarch, pausing on the way to drop off our bags at the Otago Central Hyde Hotel. After a coffee in Middlemarch we set off, having been warned by a friendly man that the forecast rain would be approaching from behind us.

Tuesday's walk was 27, 28, 29 or 30 kms, depending upon which signs or literature one read. At one point, there were two signs within a few yards of each other, one saying that we were 13 kms from Middlemarch, the other that we had completed 15 kms of our journey. I think the days walk was 28 kms.

It was interesting to cross the family creek along the way. My name is Heaney, but as most people could not write when the area was being settled there are various spellings.

This is a bit of a firework display to celebrate the discovery. Gay loves a good fireworks show. I am sure you will have spotted that it is really plant life.

Shortly before reaching Hyde we passed this monument to the dreadful rail crash in 1946. More than half the people on board were either killed or injured. The train entered a bend at twice the recommended speed. I don't know if heads rolled.

We had munched a bit of dried fruit along the way. Having set off at 0930 we arrived at 1430, ate a spot of lunch, then generally lounged around watching cyclists arrive at the hotel either to stay or to have a drink before carrying on. Although it was cold when we set off, a strong sun came out. We weren't to see much of that in the next few days.

In the evening we walked a couple of hundred yards to a splendidly converted school where we had dinner with a large and jolly crowd from Christchurch. They were all couples except for John, who had left his wife at home. He owns a brewery in Christchurch and was very insistent that we should come to stay with him and his wife next time we are in Christchurch.

The hotel was good. Our booking was for ensuite, which was not quite true. We had our own bathroom but had to cross a corridor to get to it. A quaint aspect of the hotel was that there was no way of securing the room door, whether we were inside or outside.

28 kms down.